Rose Wilks has been in prison for four long years. Incarcerated for something she didn’t do. Another tragic part of a life filled with tragedy and betrayal. Rose is serving a sentence for manslaughter. She is charged with setting a fire that took a baby’s life.
Rose’s life has been a lonely one. At an early age her mother commit suicide and she went to live with her Auntie Ruth. Ruth was a spinster with no children of her own. Her parenting skills were sketchy to say the least. She did love Rose, but her failing health prematurely ended their time together.
Shelving her dreams of getting a university education, Rose went to live and work in a local hotel. It is there that she meets and falls in love with Jason, the bartender. Jason, though somewhat attentive to Rose, is still very much in love with his ex-wife, Emma. Where Rose is plain, Emma is beautiful. Fearful of losing Jason, Rose thinks she can make Jason love her. In her effort to do this, she falls pregnant.
“I thought we were going to be a normal family, just like I’d always wanted.”
Rose and Jason have an argument and Rose delivers prematurely. Their tiny son, Joel, is barely clinging to life. Jason and Rose are distraught, upset and apprehensive.
Emma Hatcher, Jason’s ex-wife is also pregnant. She delivers a son, Luke, and is in the hospital at the same time as Rose. Luke is healthy and thriving – Joel is weak and sickly. Rose rails against the injustice of it, but cannot help but love baby Luke.
“There should be a word for it. If I’d lost a husband, I would be a widow. But what is a woman who loses a baby? There is no word.”
Rose befriends Emma, who has no idea of Rose’s relationship with Jason, her former husband. Rose frequently babysits for Emma. She bonds with baby Luke. She even goes so far as to breastfeed him, and to sneak into Emma’s house while she is asleep, just to fondly gaze upon Luke in his cot. It is after a night when she has done this, that there is a fire in Emma’s house and baby Luke is killed. He was just four months old.
Cate Austin is a probation officer. A single mother in her late twenties, Cate has just started working at the Suffolk prison – Rose Wilks is her first case. It is up to Cate to determine if she feels that Rose is a good candidate for early parole.
Cate is struggling, and like all single, working mothers, she is riddled with guilt. Her darling little girl is being looked after by a childminder. The little girl’s father is now living with another woman. Everything seems like so much effort, like a juggler with too many balls in the air.
Can Cate be objective with Rose’s case? Will her own parental guilt influence her parole report?
Rose Wilks did not start the fire that killed Luke. But just what IS she guilty of?
Like me, you might think you’ve got this whodunnit all figured out about halfway through. However… you’d be wrong. This novel holds some plot twists that will shock you.
The characterization in this novel was very well rendered, causing the reader to empathise with all of the central characters. The author employed complicated emotional subterfuge to make the impact of her plot twists more deeply felt.
This novel about three women, is about mothering, about loss, and about parental guilt. Written in a way that is articulate and compelling, this is the second novel by this author that I have read. Lucky me. Ruth Dugdall has written several other books including three other titles in the Cate Austin series, so I have lots of great reading ahead. Highly recommended.
Ruth Dugdall was born in Felixstowe, Suffolk, and studied a BA (Hons) degree in English and Theatre Studies at Warwick University, and then an MA is Social Work at UEA. She worked as a Probation Officer for almost a decade, working in prisons with numerous high-risk criminals. Ruth’s debut novel The Woman Before Me (Legend Press, 2010) was informed by her experiences. Ruth’s professional background gives her writing authenticity and credibility. Ruth’s second novel The Sacrificial Man was published in 2011.
Ruth is the winner of the CWA Debut Dagger and the Luke Bitmead Bursary and has been longlisted for the New Angle Book Prize and People’s Book Prize.
She currently lives with her husband and two children in Luxembourg.